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Undying Legends, Burlington NJ

...Curious characters, witches, buried pirate treasure...
...stories too good to be forgotten...

Some stories, too good to be true, are yet too cherished to be abandoned. These “oral traditions” as they are called, are passed verbally from one generation to the next, lacking only the documentation to be proven true... or, untrue. Burlingtonians will gladly convey these “urban legends” to you with conviction and the ring of truth.

Read on, dear listener, to fascinating tales of witch trees, pirate treasures, ghost dogs, old hags, and underground tunnels! Take your pick and click on the title below.

T A B L E  O F  C O N T E N T S

A Real Gingerbread House
Hidden Loyalists, Secret Chambers
A Life-Saving Love Affair
Captains of Industry Champions of Freedom
Dam’ Brady and the Witch’s Tree
Tabloid Witch Trials
The Flight of Aaron Burr
King of France Meet Apostle of Burlington
Tales of Fire-eating Dogs from the Wood
Urge to Go West in Zane
Underground Railroad Rx for Freedom
Grant vs. Lincoln, One-on-One
Which is Witch Tree?
Blackbeard's Buried Burlington Treasure

A Real Gingerbread House

Gingerbread served at Revell House

Benjamin Franklin, author, inventor, statesman, first passed through Burlington in 1726. Tradition holds the Revell House (213 Wood St., 27 on map) to be the home where a young Ben Franklin was sold gingerbread and given supper by a friendly Burlington woman on his way to Philadelphia. Thus, the Revell House is sometimes called the Gingerbread House. The Wood Street Fair is sponsored annually by the Colonial Burlington Foundation the first Saturday after Labor Day, for the upkeep of this historic home.

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Hidden Loyalists, Secret Chambers

Old St. Mary'sThe house, since demolished, of Royal Governor of New Jersey William Franklin (29 on map) was built before the Revolution, on the Green Bank of the Delaware. After his arrest by order of the Provincial Congress June 1776, a Quaker mother and healer, Margaret Hill Morris, acquired the house. She wrote in her diary of a secret chamber, termed “the auger hole”, in the East Wing. A bell hung on the wall of a second-floor bedchamber, rung by a wire with a pull on the ground floor. Entering a closet door from that bedroom revealed two shelves. Removal of the shelves permitted the entire back of the closet to swing open, revealing a room tucked under the roof of the cock loft. It was floored with smooth boards, and furnished with a pile of clean straw for sleeping, and a box of sawdust, perhaps to soften footfalls, or act as privy.

It was here, Ms. Morris writes in her diary, that she hid Tory rector Rev. Jonathon O’Dell of St. Mary’s as he fled from capture by the Revolutionaries.

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A Life-Saving Love Affair

The Revolution puts a heroic local lass, Emma Reed, in love with a gallant American Captain Smith, at the mercy of a cruel and hedonistic British Major Morton. Spurning his unwanted affections, Emma declared her true affection for Smith. The Major captured Smith as he attempted one night to cross the lines to meet with Emma. Smith was held under armed guard at the British Barracks (formerly at site 41 on map). Emma braved a vicious blizzard to throw open a window to his headlong escape, helping him dodge bullets across the frozen Assiscunk Creek to rejoin George Washington’s retreat across New Jersey. Legend continues that Captain Smith later crossed the Delaware with Washington, to figure prominently in the Christmas Eve rout of the Hessians at Trenton. Some say Capt. Smith met Major Morton afield that night, and slew him in hand-to-hand combat. A major reversal of fortune.

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Captains of Industry, Champions of Freedom

While Henry Grubb (Grubb Estate, 46 Riverbank, 28 on map) and his family were known to be ardent abolitionists, they are also said to have built tunnels from the riverbank under their home for the concealment of runaway slaves. Grubb operated the first tavern in Burlington, growing his business interests into mining and manufacturing. The estate contained a tannery, a brewery, and a brickyard. It is possible that the sluices and water channels necessary to the conduct of his businesses may have given rise to rumors of more humanitarian uses. It is also possible that Grubb’s anti-slavery sentiment extended from belief to actions. Henry’s son Gen. Edward B. Grubb was indeed a heroic figure, commanding a regiment in the War of Emancipation.

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Dam’ Brady and the Witch’s Tree

Unfortunate Lydia Brady was a scarecrow sort of beggar-woman. Her stern face inspired rumors of revelry with witches, and of evil spirit-conjuring. Her condition as deaf and lame was attributed to wild nights cavorting with witches on the Riverbank (29 on map). A song of the period carries a witch’s confession:

“...I saw Dame Brady sitting alone,
and I dried up the marrow within her hip-bone;
When she arose, she could scarcely limp.
Why did I do it? She called me ‘foul imp’...”

Lydia commanded some respect from jeering boys, who feared both her supernatural powers, and the sting of flung stones from the basket she carried for that purpose.

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Tabloid Witch Trials

In The Pennsylvania Gazette of Oct. 15-22, 1730, Ben Franklin prints a “correspondent’s” story of a Witch Trial. The Accused, a man and woman, were charged with,

“...making their neighbors’ Sheep dance in an uncommon manner”, and, “...causing hogs to speak, and sing Psalms &etc., to the great Terror... of the King’s good and peaceable subjects.”

The Trials included being weighed against a Bible– the Accused passed that test by being weightier. Then, tied hand and foot, both Accused and Accusers (a man and a woman each) were dropped in the River, with the notion that the bewitched would float. All, in fact floated (some would say, swam for their lives). At this, supposing that the women’s shifts, which bound with garters then ballooned with air, helped them float, it was determined to try them again, the next warm weather... naked.

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The Flight of Aaron Burr, or, Folly at Schuyler’s Ferry

Predating the Quakers’ arrival in 1677, Dutchman Aarent Schuyler (pronounced sky-ler) operated a log tavern and a rope ferry upon the Delaware River in the vicinity of Burlington Island (1 on map) to transport teams and travelers on the Highway to New York (there still exists Schuyler’s Ferry Road). His grandson Peter inherited both tavern and ferry, and this American myth concerns a mid-July day in 1804, when Peter ferried a well-dressed garrulous gentleman on horseback across the River, passing the time in discussion of current affairs. The passenger asked if anyone locally had heard of Aaron Burr being about, and the ferryman replied, “No, if I could catch the damned rascal I’d drown him!”. The stranger had departed for Philadelphia long before it was pointed out to Peter that his passenger was none other than Aaron Burr fleeing New York and the popular wrath over his killing of Alexander Hamilton.

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King of France, Meet Apostle of Burlington

It is said that Stephen Grellet, the well-traveled “Apostle of Burlington”, had served in the personal guard of King Louis XVI, and escaped to America when Louis was abruptly brought up short by the French Revolution. Grellet knew the royal faces well.

Louis Charles, the nine-year old Dauphin of France, son of Louis and Marie Antoinette, was imprisoned thereafter as the recognized heir to be kept from the French throne. History tells us he died after two years’ beatings and imprisonment. Romantic notions instead claim he was abducted by substitution of a dying child in his place. His physician died suddenly thereafter, the last remaining soul capable of identifying him.

A popular interpretation has the Dauphin spirited to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, then taken to America, where he was lodged with an Indian tribe, and lost to the world. King Louis’ brother maintained court in Russia, where he had to debunk an endless procession of poseurs and imposters. A team of French loyalists scoured American Indian tribes, finally locating a young Frenchman living as a chief’s son. He had no memory of his childhood. “Voilá”, they thought, “the Dauphin!”.

To confirm it, they brought the youth before Grellet in Burlington, as he knew the royal family’s appearance. On close examination, Monsieur Grellet declared him the true heir to the French monarchy, scars, features, and all. The court of King Louis’ brother in Russia did not, alas, agree. Disillusioned, the young man returned to the American West, becoming a teacher and missionary among the Indians who reared him. (See collection of Joseph Bonaparte items at Burlington County Historical Society, 36-38 on map.)

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Tales of Fire-eating Dogs from the Wood

John Wood, ca. 1825, was a storyteller who spellbound children with ‘first-hand’ accounts of fantastic creatures and superhuman feats. Favorites included tales of incredible dogs who would eat fire ‘til it blazed out of their mouths, and a recounting of his own full-tilt headlong horseride through a field of rye as tall as an elephant’s eye, which he parted with his whip as he rode.

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Urge to Go West in Zane

Robert Zane arrived in the colonies in 1675 as a wool weaver. In 1679 he is said to have married Burlington Native American maiden Alice Alday, in a Quaker ceremony. His children led picturesque lives. One built Wheeling West Virginia’s first house. Jonathon was quite the expert hunter of his day. Isaac was captured by Indians at age 9, married the sister of a Wyandotte chief, but saved colonist lives by announcing impending attacks. Hunter-pioneer Col. Ebenezer Zane helped win the West, and his daughter Betty Zane was the heroine of a popular novel by the Colonel’s descendant, author Zane Grey.

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A Prescription for Freedom

1731 construction date in bricks on gable end

Burlington Pharmacy, built in 1731, in 1841 commenced as New Jersey’s oldest pharmacy in continuous operation (see 8 on map). It was owned, then, by Quaker William J. Allinson, an ardent abolitionist who used it as a forum for anti-slavery rallies.

This story describes Allinson’s determination... One Colonel Christian came to the City Aug. 13, 1836, and claimed that an industrious farmer near town, Severn Martin, was his slave who had fled Christian’s Virginia plantation 16 years before. Martin was duped and hauled before the Mayor sitting as County Magistrate. The account given by Christian and two companion slave drivers was flimsy and undocumented, yet resulted in Martin being chained to one of the slave drivers as property. Martin resisted, desperate and despairing, only to be knocked down and dragged to a steamboat to be taken away. To his credit, the boat’s captain refused passage. Martin was loaded instead on to a wagon, when Allinson, “the little man with the great heart”, solicited the $800 demanded by Christian and bought Martin’s freedom.

Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have denounced slavery from the Pharmacy doorstep, and oral tradition has it that tunnels (or arcaded basement?) under this building hid slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

This “common knowledge” is cited by many sources, including three recent, brief sources:
New Jersey Commerce & Economic Growth Commission Office of Travel & Tourism page, at http://www.state.nj.us/travel/Perfect_Tours/aatour.shtml
and in the Burlington County Cultural & Heritage Dept. publication,
“Tour Guide African American Historic Sites Burlington County New Jersey” by historian Giles Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. The Guide is available online in the form of an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, at http://www.burlco.lib.nj.us/county/culturalheritage/africanamerican/historicsites.pdf
with the author’s preface at
http://www.burlco.lib.nj.us/county/culturalheritage/africanamerican/
A more-recent State publication is available, “Steal Away, Steal Away... A Guide to the U.G.R.R. in New Jersey” published by New Jersey Historical Commission, again credited to Giles Wright, and Edward L. Wonkeryor, Coordinator, N.J. Underground Railroad Project N.J. Historical Commission

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Grant vs. Lincoln, One-on-One

Ulysses S. Grant is said to have arm-wrestled presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in the bar of the Blue Anchor Tavern (est. 1750, SW corner of High & Broad Sts., 13 on map). Lincoln made his local Republican campaign headquarters there, near the railroad station.

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Which is Witch Tree?

Plaque from 1927, the 250th AnniversaryWitchcraft figured prominently in the imaginings of ignorant colonists. Legendary witch’s trees on the Riverbank, some said, included the huge buttonwood to which the Ship Shield tied up in 1678 (Ship Shield Memorial, 30 on map). Others picture an old willow hosting wild nightime dance circles of devilish creatures, who would screech and fly away on... you guessed it... broomsticks, if intruded upon.

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Blackbeard’s Buried Burlington Treasure

As late as 1875 an enormous black walnut stump remained on the East side of Wood Street, just North of Union (near 23 on map), as a reminder of buried pirate treasure. One dark and stormy night, believed early inhabitants, Blackbeard and his pirate crew landed at the foot of Wood Street with their gold and silver plunder to hide. Beneath that walnut tree, they buried their blood-stained gains under a broad, flat stone. And, under a suicidal Spanish cut-throat who volunteered when Blackbeard cried above the storm, “Who’ll guard this wealth?” A charmed bullet left no wound but did the deed, and they buried the pirate upright, feet resting on the stone he guarded. The ship’s dog must have been partial to the spaniard, because it was shot, too, and buried there. For many years into the 20th century, folks on Wood Street reported seeing a black dog, guarding the tree, then... disappearing. Why would Blackbeard just up and leave the treasure there, you ask? Some say he returned to claim it one wild and windy night, but lightning flashes revealed a spectacle of haggard witches dancing with linked hands around the Spaniard’s grave, forever repelling the superstitious pirates...

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The living legends of the past... they’re our present to you. Welcome to the City of Burlington.

Read on, for more famous Burlington People to Meet:
Spiritual Leaders
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Undying Legends

 

 

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